All Expressions on the Artistic Front

Two straight days of calling attention to seemingly throwaway moments in art that nevertheless demonstrate the practical alchemy of the relationship between audience and art.

Near the end of the new movie All Quiet on the Western Front — Germany’s submission to this year’s Academy Award for Best International Feature — a warmongering fucking fascist declares, “…


Before you read the line, find a mirror and clock your immediate reaction:

“Man is born alone, lives alone, and dies alone.”

Now watch the movie, and marvel at how the actor who plays Brixton (his real name? thanks for no help, IMDB) — the aforementioned fucking fascist’s subtly-skeptical second-in-command — absolutely nails your facial expression in the next shot.

He sure as shit nailed mine.

(Oh, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about because you nodded along to the above quote, please consult a therapist).

This scene is a testament to the casual reflectivity of art, often the source of its more macro profundity.

But an actor’s visages can also operate by an inverse logic, through the joys of unexpected expressions. My favorite type: when the external is not an obvious window into the internal, when the audience must deduce the character’s puzzling interiority from the actor’s endlessly parsable exterior.

While some may label this as weak thespianism (“MOTIVATION MUST ALWAYS BE CLEAR, GOTDAMMIT!!!”), the approach rings truer to these eyes; we humans are an infinitely multitudinous bunch.

For a masterclass in such vividly ambiguous gazes, in theaters now:


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